Voyagers: SS Robert Heinlein

Chapter 14-Time to Breathe

By Douglas DD
Assisted by Zarek Dragon
<Space Fleet Headquarters, Hal’s office>
Kyle was pleased to see that receiving treats for a meeting was becoming a regular feature in Hal’s office. The table along the back wall of the office offered a choice of raspberry scones and a selection of fresh fruit. Kyle chose a scone and two slices of honeydew melon. Devin and Brad, the other two Heinlein officers at the meeting, also picked a scone and fruit. Greg, Hal, and Admiral Helmut Schneider were the senior Space Fleet officers at the meeting. Admiral Schneider was the Director of Information Services.
Everyone had read the email that had been sent to Kyle the previous evening. The meeting was to find out from Schneider how the email was sent and what they were going to do about it.
“The email appears to have been sent from a Space Fleet computer. The ID for the source is not a legitimate number, however. In other words, somebody hacked into the system, which is not easy to do. Whoever did it had to have detailed knowledge of the workings of the system. In other words, there is a good chance that the hacker is an employee of Space Fleet.”
Schneider, who was from Stuttgart, Germany, spoke with a slight accent but was easy to understand. Brad knew the admiral had an outstanding background in information systems and really knew his stuff. Unlike some directors, Schneider was perfect for his position. As far as Brad was concerned no position required an intimate knowledge of the system more than Director of Information Services.
“Before we can determine who sent the email and what to do about it, we have to learn how the email was sent.”
Greg decided not to tell Schneider that he and Hal had a pretty good idea who was responsible. He would share that bit of information after the Heinlein officers were dismissed from the meeting. As things stood his idea was pure speculation and he didn’t want the kids to go off half-cocked about it and start making poor decisions.
“Admiral Schneider, do you have any problems with me and some of my techies seeing what we can come up with?” Brad asked.
“I wouldn’t waste my time on it. I don’t see what that would accomplish. But rest assured I will be keeping you up-to-date on our findings,” the admiral answered.
Brad fought a smile. To him, the admiral’s non-committal answer was as good as a yes.
After another fifteen minutes of discussion that came up with nothing useful, Hal dismissed Brad and Devin and asked Kyle to remain for a moment.
As soon as the two left the room Greg told Kyle to ignore the email. “Whoever sent it has no authority to put you on report and if he should try—well, for one thing it would immediately reveal his identity. Hal and I will take care of that. We are also keeping Admiral Mirah up to date on the email and what we learn about its origin. Now, go to your ship and enjoy your day with your crew.”
“Thanks to you all. I know the problem is in good hands and will be solved,” Kyle said.
“You handled the problem very well, Captain Robinson,” Admiral Schneider said.
“I concur,” Hal said.
“As do I,” Greg added.
Kyle left Hal’s office feeling infinitely better than he had all morning. He wondered who Greg and Hal had in mind as the culprit. He had his own theory, but he didn’t have much to back it. But a lot of little things that had been going on regarding Donald Nixon and his minions pointed him in the direction of Admiral Benson.
<On board the Heinlein>
As second officer, Steve Boyer had command of the ship in the absence of the captain and the first officer. This was one of those times and it would be the first time he had command. Being given the responsibility was last minute and he didn’t have time to be nervous. His morning had been thrown into a tizzy at 0545 when Kyle called him and told him the news.
 Since the agenda for the morning had been planned by the Heinlein’s chief officers the day before, all he had to do was follow the plan. He knew that sounded easier than it was probably going to be.
All of the crew was expected to be onboard the Heinlein by 0900. Steve boarded at 0800 along with three members of his Operations staff. They were McKenzie Rice, his acting assistant chief, Gilbert Kirby, his recreation director, and his son, Sasho Boyer, who, despite his young age, was a regular ensign and a member of the Operations staff. His major duty on the Operations staff was being the captain’s yeoman. In essence he was Kyle’s aide and secretary; it was his job to keep the captain organized and up to date.
Gilbert had the main meeting room program loaded into the holodeck computer. The program created a room big enough to seat the entire crew as well as a few extras. He also had some of the recreation programs loaded so he could show the crew what was available. The crew members with experience on other Explorer ships had undoubtedly used many of those programs. But there were some new ones that only an Earhart Class ship holodeck could run because of its larger size and more sophisticated computer setup. Gilbert was eager to see how the crew reacted to them.
He also had other activities that did not require the holodeck to present to the crew. Nobody on the crew should have a reason to complain about being bored. If nothing else the large book, video, and music libraries could provide plenty of entertainment. And if the ship’s catalog didn’t have what someone was looking for, they could log into the Space Fleet library on Earth where a friendly librarian would be available to help them.
Steve felt confident that the ship and the crew were ready for the big morning meeting that would precede the day’s activities. Now he could only hope that Kyle and Devin arrived on time since they would be guiding the meeting. He knew they had a last minute but important meeting with three Space Fleet staff officers, which was how he had ended up in command of the Heinlein to start the morning. He also knew that planned meetings with staff officers didn’t always adhere to the schedule on their agenda, so who knew how the result of an unplanned, impromptu meeting with no agenda would work out.
The entire crew had arrived by 0845 and was seated in the holodeck auditorium by 0900. Steve was relieved that the boarding and seating of the crew had gone smoothly. It helped that Shasho had sent a message containing the morning schedule to all the crew members the night before as directed by Kyle. Steve had received a message at 0820 from Kyle saying that he, Devin, and Brad should be on board no later than 0930 depending on the directions they received from orbit traffic control. Kyle soon amended that, giving an ETA of 0910.
Steve explained to the crew the reason for the “slight” delay. “Gil will show some of the video on the wonders of the Heinlein’s holodeck during the wait,” Steve told them. Gil had worked in tandem with Lieutenant Commander Perry Fox of Information Systems. Perry was the holodeck manager. He was 15 and had shipped out on the Olympic when it was first launched.
“If you ask me, Captain Doofus and his gay boy ass licker, also known as his first officer, enjoyed a long night of fun in bed and overslept,” Don Nixon said to the second in command of his cabal, Everett Belmont.
“You never know,” Everett said. “Not that there’s anything wrong with being gay.”
“There is if you put fun ahead of duty,” Don grumbled. He didn’t like that Everett wasn’t in total agreement with what he had just said.
“Steve said they had an important meeting.”
“Yeah, with each other. And there’s another gay boy for you. I mean he and Brad are married just like Kyle and Danny. Think about it—married when you’re not even 15 yet. All because they got married on some alien planet and Earth says it’s okay. That’s not right. Not that I haven’t played around with another guy because the days are long and you can’t help being horny, but that’s not like falling in love and being married.”
Don’s admission to having played around was a big surprise to Everett. From the way he behaved, Everett thought of Don as being celibate and getting all of his pleasure from jerking off solo. Everett didn’t think of himself as being gay, but he had spent many nights in bed with other boys. “Any port in a storm,” as he and his bed buddies on board the Constellation liked to say.
The time he served on board the Constellation had been short, but wonderful. Captain Woo ran a tight ship with none of the controversy that was bubbling on the Heinlein. When he compared Captain Woo with Captain Robinson, he had no doubt that Don was right: Kyle was overmatched and completely out of his element as captain of the Heinlein.
They turned their attention to the big screen that had been produced at the front of the auditorium and proceeded to watch the video on the activities awaiting them for their amusement as well as their edification. Gil had put together an informative video that immediately grabbed their attention.
Meanwhile Danny deftly brought the Mozart into the shuttle bay and with the expert guidance of Jesse Gross, who was perched in the control room. The Mozart was secured in its landing bay at 0907 and copilot “Red” Lynch released the port side door. Kyle, Devin, and Brad thanked the pilots for the smooth ride and disembarked. The berthing time was automatically entered into the ship’s logs and the shuttle’s logs.
Kyle, Devin, and Brad headed directly to the holodeck. Danny and “Red” would join them as soon as they had the ship completely tied down, meaning the engines were turned off and the life support system was connected to the ship’s system.
The video was playing, and the crew was giving it their complete attention. Kyle was pleased to see everything running so smoothly and made a note to be sure to praise Steve for his work. He knew what Steve was capable of and that he was up to the challenges of the second officer position. The atmosphere in the holodeck auditorium was one of complete attention to the program.
The video ended ten minutes later, and the lights came on. Steve let everyone know that was the first of two videos and that the second one would be shown later in the day. “I see Captain Robinson and First Officer French have returned and I will now turn the meeting over to them.”
Devin apologized for him and Kyle being late and then told the crew that they could take a break and the meeting would start in fifteen minutes. The crew stood up, happy to stretch their legs. They talked excitedly about the exciting activities they’d seen in the video and how they couldn’t wait to see what the second video had to offer.
The morning went on as planned with the meeting ending at 1030. The crew would be spending the rest of their time working with their department. After the break ended at 1045 Brad addressed his information systems crew in the ship’s technology center, informing them on what they had done well so far on the ship’s computers and what they still needed to work on.
At 1100 Brad placed Nelson Mirah, his assistant chief, in charge and went to the captain’s ready room for his interview with Kyle and Devin. They would be interviewing him for the third officer position, the last of the senior officer positions needing to be filled. Kyle had hinted that Brad had nothing to worry about and the interview would be a mere formality. Brad felt he all but had the job and the interview was taking place because Explorer Program protocol required it. Brad’s thoughts turned out to be right on the mark and after fifteen minutes of Kyle and Devin asking the proper questions and Brad giving the proper answers, the interview was concluded and Brad was formally offered the position by Kyle. Brad immediately accepted. He then left for the technology center while Kyle and Devin went to take care of the work they had scheduled for themselves.
The culinary staff used the time as expected. They met in a holodeck meeting room that was built into the Heinlein’s holodeck program. The chief topic of their meeting would be the election to determine whether or not they would all shift from being civilian crew members to being part of the crew. Once the staff was settled in, Head Chef Ian McFlynn explained the proposal, outlining both the pluses and the minuses.
Devin was at the meeting to make sure proper election protocols were followed and to be a source of information. Kyle sent Devin instead of attending himself because of the email of the night before. He wanted the entire process to appear above board without any undue influence from him.
After Ian finished his presentation, he asked if there were any questions. Chief Baker Ben Maxey raised his hand and was acknowledged by Ian.
“I know that officers have to pass a comprehensive test to become an ensign and then pass a test to qualify for each promotion up the line,” Ben said. “Will we have to pass the standard officers’ tests in order become an officer and get promotions? I know there is no way I could come close to passing one of those tests. I would almost have to go back to school to have a chance.”
“I’ll try to keep my answer shorter than the question,” Ian grinned. “And I will do that by having Devin answer your question.”
“The answer is you will not have to pass those tests, but you will be tested,” Devin said. “You will be given the rank of Warrant Officer, which is given to those working in most specialty and service positions, with medical being the exception. Nick Unser, with his skills as a barber, is an example of a warrant officer. He gained his rank by passing a test geared to his profession.”
“What kind of test would somebody like me need to pass?” Ben asked.
“I think a dozen of your chocolate chip cookies would pretty much say it all.” He looked at the rest of the staff. He had anticipated the question and studied up on the test that Space Fleet food service crew members needed to pass. “And the same goes for the rest of you. If you couldn’t cook, you wouldn’t be here. Essentially the test has you cook up something you specialize in. You also pick a recipe presented in the test and create a meal from it.”
“Piece of cake,” sous chef Che Sitsitsky said. “In a manner of speaking,” he finished with a smile.
There were no more questions, and everyone was ready to vote. The voting would be done on a computer with each cook using retinal identification and entering his vote. Devin would verify that proper protocols were followed, and the vote would be sent to Space Fleet HQ.
“How did it go?” Ian asked Devin.
“It went 11-0 in favor of the proposal,” Devin said as he fought a grin. It was the outcome he and Kyle were in favor of, as were Greg and Hal.
Once the interview with Brad was completed Kyle went to take care of his tasks for the meetings, which was to check in on the different departments to see how their gatherings were going. His first stop was going to be Science when his communicator vibrated. Kyle could tell from the long/short pattern that it was an incoming message.
It was a message from THE COMMODORE. Kyle noted that while it came from a Space Fleet address, it was not the same address as the day before. It was still addressed to Faux Captain Robinson, however.
“I have learned that you missed your deadline for submitting your ship’s vote on the food service staff issue. Consider yourself to be on report. Remember, your father cannot help you since the matter has been sent to higher authorities. I hope you enjoyed your brief reign as captain of the ‘Heinie’.”
Kyle was certain that the misspelling of Heinlein was intentional. He immediately forwarded the message to his father, Hal, Admiral Schneider, Devin, Brad, and Fleet Admiral Mirah. He had already inserted the group into his contacts under the heading Commodore Mail. There was nothing he could do about the issue right then, so he continued his trek to the Science department.
He wondered how the culinary staff voting was coming along. He knew that Devin would contact him as soon as the vote became official. That happened a few minutes later when messages from Devin and Ian arrived, each reporting on the final 11-0 vote. Kyle grinned when he saw the outcome. He was certain the change would be for the better.
Kyle learned later that the Sooloo crew felt the same. After all, it was a good proposal, and he hoped the other captains and executive chefs felt the same way.  
<Heinlein holodeck auditorium>
After a lunch of sandwiches that had been prepared the day before, the members of the crew went to their quarters to complete the process of moving in. They were instructed to be at the holodeck auditorium ready for a 1600 meeting. The auditorium program had been brought back up by Perry Fox after lunch. As before, it dominated the holodeck area. Once it was operational, Perry went to his quarters with Cody Vanover, his cabinmate, to organize their gear and get the cabin in order.  
Devin opened the meeting at 1600 with the entire crew present. Donald had considered being late just to get under Kyle’s skin, but he remembered what his daddy had told him: “Don’t get involved in the little things, son. Always think of the big picture. Irritating Kyle isn’t going to help us reach our goal except maybe when you’re close to breaking him. First, we have to set him up for a long, hard slide down a steep slope.”
“Welcome back to our holodeck auditorium,” Devin said. “And thank you all for being on time. Punctuality is one of the things that makes for an efficiently operating ship.” While he and Kyle didn’t take roll, he knew that the department chiefs took mental roll of their departments and would immediately let him and Kyle know if anyone was late or a no-show.
 Devin looked around the room and saw that the bulk of the crew had their attention shifted forward. “I will now turn the meeting over to Captain Robinson who will be going over the agenda for the next three days.”
Kyle stood on the podium and started in on the upcoming events. “As soon as this meeting is over you will report to your department chief who will get you ready to board a shuttle for Earth. We will be using seven shuttles, and you should be heading for Earth as quickly as we can load them. You should all be Earthside no later than 1800. Any Space Fleet personnel returning to Earth will be doing so on the Capricorn once our shuttles have all been launched.
“Tomorrow will be your last day off as a crew for a long time. Sit back and relax. Nobody on this crew will be going to the ship tomorrow, including the senior officers. It will be a day for all of us to enjoy. Before I go on, the shuttle pilots are dismissed so they can prepare their shuttle.” The fourteen crew members who would be acting as pilots and copilots rose and left the auditorium. They would catch a video of the rest of the meeting sometime after dinner.
“Monday will be a very busy day,” Kyle continued. “Your chief officer will give you printed schedules for Monday when you meet with him after this meeting ends. The schedules will also be available on the ship’s website. There will be some new crew members coming aboard, including our new chief medical officer. Be sure to make them feel welcome.
“Also, we will be hosting three captains, two from Explorer ships and one from a Space Fleet ship. Those ships are the Sooloo and Endurance of the Explorer program and the Space Fleet Star Ship Pegasus. I expect you will do your best to make a good impression on our visitors and show them that the crew on the Heinlein is well on the road to making the Heinlein the best ship in the Explorer fleet. Thanks for being a great crew.” Kyle then turned the meeting back over to Devin and left the podium, taking a seat in the front row.
Devin went over the rest of the agenda. One of the things he emphasized was that the ship was scheduled to leave Earth orbit at 1330 on Monday and head out into deep space. Those who stood watches would be scheduled to actually stand watch. The trip would be the crew’s first overnight. The Heinlein would be staying out in space all day Tuesday as the ship ran on what would be a regular full day’s watch schedule. School would also be in session for a full session. In other words, Tuesday would be what a normal day in space would look like. The Heinlein would return to Earth orbit on Wednesday. The crew members would be given the option of spending the night either on board the ship or Earthside.
After taking questions he dismissed the crew to their chiefs. Kyle walked over to where Devin was standing talking to Steve Boyer. “Great job running the meeting, Steve,” Kyle said. “And thanks for organizing everything this morning when things didn’t go like Devin and I had planned.”
“Hey, it’s the exact reason you appointed me second officer,” Steve grinned.
“And now your hubby is the third officer,” Kyle said. “You and Brad are such a great couple, and this should make it even better.”
“Think about it, three of our four senior officers are married,” Devin said. 
“And what’s holding you up?” Steve asked.
“Maybe the fact that I’ve always chased girls, with one exception.”
“And that exception just happens to be Lucias Hayes, who will be arriving on your old ship, the Endurance, tomorrow,” Kyle pointed out.
“And who will be my assistant chief of operations,” Steve said. “It will fun to watch you two as our voyage progresses.”
“Watch all you want. The two of us are good friends. Really good friends. But that’s all it’s been.”
Kyle and Steve knew that was true, but Kyle also knew that Devin and Lucias had enjoyed each other’s company in bed. And he knew Devin well enough to see that there was more than just a good friendship between him and Lucias.
<Robinson Residence>
Kyle had returned to Earth on the Beethoven. Danny was the pilot and “Red” Lynch the copilot. If Kyle hadn’t been on board, “Red” would have been the pilot but it was considered good etiquette for the senior pilot to take the left-hand seat when the ship’s captain, or any member of admiralty, was on board a shuttle.
He was now seated with his family for a later dinner than usual. The talk was completely about the Heinlein. Because the formal launch would be Thursday, the excitement was palpable. With the exception of new crew members who would be boarding Monday, the ship’s crew was almost settled in. Perhaps the most exciting upcoming day was Monday, not because the crew would be complete, but because the ship would be on a regular schedule with watches starting at 1200. And at 1330 it would be requesting permission from orbit traffic control to leave Earth orbit.
“How many new crew is coming on Monday?” Koji asked.
“Just three, and maybe four if we can find a crew qualified service member since Ian is one short,” Kyle said. “He assures me that the staff can function just fine with 11 members, but a full 12 would be better because it would make for a better schedule and more time off for the crew.”
“I hear your vote for the food staff to become warrant officers was in favor,” Greg said. “Congratulations.”
“And, it was unanimous.”
“Well, before you do a victory dance, the scuttlebutt I’ve heard says that when the entire Explorer vote is announced the proposal will be voted down.”
“I hope not. I think the food service, culinary service as Ian calls it, will be way better off in the long run,” Kyle said.
“Apparently not everybody thinks so. Well, the final vote will be announced at 1100 tomorrow. Then we’ll all go from there.”
“Couldn’t it just be awarded ship by ship?”
“Son, it shouldn’t take too much thought on your part to see why that proposal is unworkable. It has to be all or nothing. At least you don’t have to have a supermajority to win. A simple majority will do it.”
“What’s a super-duper majority?” Koji asked.
“It’s just super majority, without the duper,” Danny grinned. “It means a vote needs to have a two-thirds majority to win.”
“But what if nobody gets it? Then who wins it?”
“On a proposal like this, it is the vote for change that needs the super majority.”
Koji thought about it a few seconds. He nodded his head and said, “I gots it.”
“I’ve got it,” Kyle said.
“Yeah, that too. So, I got it.”
After dinner, the family played games and watched a movie. Greg and Alicia wanted to be with all of the boys as long as they could. The boys would overnight on the Heinlein Monday and Tuesday nights. On Friday night they would be gone for what would probably be months. Greg and Alicia were not ready to be empty nesters again, but it would be happening soon.
Since the boys had Sunday off and didn’t have to get up early, they elected to stay up as late as they could. That turned out to be later than Duskin was ready for, and he was sound asleep on the floor at 2210. Greg and Ronnie escorted him to his bed, undressed him, and tucked him in. He barely stirred through the entire procedure.
A half hour later, Tommy declared that he couldn’t keep his eyes open, and he left for his bed. As much as Kyle, Danny, and Ronnie wanted to stay up until midnight at 2245 they declared they were ready to crash. Koji was willing to pull an all-nighter, but he was sent off to bed with the older boys.
All too soon for Greg and Alicia it was quiet in the house. “I could have sworn the entire group was going to pull an all-nighter just because they could,” Greg told his wife.
“Keep a group of adolescent boys working hard all day and even they like to get to bed,” Alicia said.
“Well, let’s hope they won’t have to do any all-nighters out in space. Those have been known to happen when the shit hits the fan.”
“I can only speak for our boys, but I think they’ll be ready for it.”
“Especially, Koji,” Greg chuckled as he and Alicia headed for their own bed.
Ian stopped at one of the two Kristof Restaurants located on the Tiberius Space port. In cooperation with the Space Academy, they supplied most of the crew for the kitchens of the Explorer ships. Ian wondered how the vote would affect them. In his mind, he thought, the way things are working, why mess with it? Still, he knew he was obligated to accept the outcome of the vote. He checked the time and saw the final vote was still a half-hour away from being announced.
Kristof Restaurant Service also warehoused and shipped the food and kitchen supplies to the Explorer Program ships as well as the Space Fleet ships.
The restaurant Ian visited was essentially a café. The other restaurant was a buffet. Kristof Restaurants also had a full-service restaurant on the campus of Space Fleet Headquarters and the cafeteria at the Space Academy.   The four restaurants allowed them to train their young charges in various kinds of food service.
The food service locations within the Space Fleet Headquarters building were staffed by regular Space Fleet staff. Most of them were regular full-time staff, but this was also where the Space Fleet food service staff was trained. Since the Space Fleet staff was made up of commissioned officers, the procedure there was different. Some of the top Explorer trainees got to serve at Headquarters on occasion but they mostly worked in the Tiberius Space Port locations.  Because the turnover on the food staff was higher than the overall Explorer program, the cooking and wait staff knew that they stood a good chance of getting on board a ship if they worked hard and made a good impression.
As Ian took his seat, a boy came over to him. "Greetings, Chef McFlynn, I am Jackson Davis, and I will be your waiter today."
Ian was surprised when the waiter used his name. Was it a good thing or a bad thing? "How did you know me?"
Jackson simply pointed at a digital bulletin board. Kyle's image was showing at the time. "What’s that?" Ian asked.
"Our notice board," Jackson replied. “One of the ads running shows ships and captains needing food service personnel. That tells me the Heinlein needs more kitchen staff. It didn’t take much effort to look up the ship’s head chef, and there was a picture of you."
"So, have you applied?"
Jackson smiled, "I have, and now I am waiting to hear back from the Kristofs. Our applications go through them.”
“You already got off to a good start with me with your greeting,” Ian said. “What kind of experience do you have in the kitchen?”
“Tons. I broil a mean steak, done perfectly. I make cookies and cupcakes from scratch. I do a really good beef stew. I even have some experience with shimmy.”
“How are your chocolate chip cookies?”
“The best,” Jackson grinned. “I guess you must really like them since you asked.”
“Oh, I love them, but the one who is crazy about chocolate chip cookies is Kyle…that is, Captain Robinson. Anyway, I’d like a cheese omelet with mushrooms, a side of bacon, and sourdough toast. Also, a large apple juice, a cup of hot chocolate, and two slices of cantaloupe.”
Jackson entered the order on his tablet. “Got it. And thanks for being interested in me.”
He started to step away when Ian stopped him. “Oh, and I’d like to speak your manager, please.”
“I’m on top of it,” Jackson said excitedly. He took off for the kitchen and a couple of minutes later a man who looked to be in his forties came out of the kitchen and walked up to Ian’s table.
“I’m Frank Kristof, how may I help you Chef McFlynn?” Jackson had told him who wanted to talk to him, and a quick look at his list of Explorer fleet chefs confirmed that. Kristof guessed Ian to be fourteen or fifteen, which seemed young for a head chef, even in the Explorer fleet.
Ian held out his hand and said, “I’m Ian McFlynn.” The two shook hands. “I see Jackson told you who I am.”
“Yes, he did,” Frank grinned. “He’s very enthusiastic, and you hit a right chord with him.”
“I take it you’re the owner.”
“Well, one of them. This is a family enterprise. My main job is to manage the café, so here I am managing it.”
“Jackson told me he’d sent an application to you for approval so he could apply to the Heinlein for a position. I am looking for one more staff member and I love his enthusiasm and demeanor. I’d love to be able to interview him.”
“I’ve been sitting on it. He’s only twelve.”
“Two members of my staff are twelve and they are doing a great job. We are a young ship.”
“I gathered that,” Frank said. “Your captain looks like he’s only twelve.”
“Thirteen would describe him perfectly.”
“There is one more issue. We received a directive from Space Fleet canceling your food order since you are going to be serving only replicated meals. Some problem with the caliber of your staffing.”
“That is news to me. Who is it from?”
“Admiral Reghardt.” Admiral Reghardt was the Space Fleet director of Food Services. “I can’t believe he didn’t inform you.”
“Can I see the directive?”
“I’ll get it,” Frank said.
Jackson brought out Ian’s breakfast just as Frank left. “Enjoy your meal,” the young waiter grinned. “It looks like you and Frank had a good talk.”
“We’re still having it,” Ian said.
“Cool. Oh, new customers just came in. I gotta go. I’ll talk to you later.” Jackson left to greet and seat a party of three.
Frank came out with a copy of the directive. One read through told Ian all he needed to know. The directive was bogus. Saying that the ship would be going to replicator only status because the crew voted unanimously for the Food Staff proposal was as bogus as anything could be. “I need to call my captain and see what’s going on. This just doesn’t seem right.” Which is putting it mildly.
“Let me know what he says.” Frank returned to the kitchen. Ian pulled out his communicator and sent a call to Kyle.
<Robinson Residence>
Kyle was enjoying a relaxing time on the pool deck. There was a bit of a chill to the October morning and the overhead heaters were running. With all the stuff that had been going on, especially the bogus mails, it was nice to just sit back and have time to breathe. He thought about checking on the Explorer fleet vote on the Food Staff proposal but didn’t want anything to wreck his mood. He wanted to relax while he could.
Watching Koji, Duskin, Tommy, and the Wilson twins laughing, splashing, wrestling, and totally enjoying each other was perfect for relieving his stress. This was his last day off for who knew how long, and he was going to enjoy every second of it. He wondered if he had ever been that carefree at that age. His life had turned sour when he was seven and it took a long time for that sourness to leave him.
He heard his communicator go off on the patio table. He was tempted to ignore it. What could be so important that I have to talk about it now? he asked himself.
His duty as a captain grabbed him, pulled him out of his lounge chair and over to his communicator. Little did he know that answering the incoming call on his communicator would change his entire day.
“Hey, Ian, what’s up?” Kyle said.
“You don’t want to know, but I have to put a wrench in your day off,” Ian said.
Oh fuck, I knew I should have ignored that call. “So, what happened, did your kitchen blow up or something?”
“Or something describes it beautifully.” Ian read him the supposed directive from Admiral Reghardt
“I’ll be right there,” Kyle told him. “And I’m bringing dad with me.”
<Tiberius Space Center, Kristof Café>
Kyle, Greg, and Brad Kanye entered the café and saw Ian sitting at a table with Frank Kristof. The café was around two-thirds full as the late brunch and early lunch crowd started arriving as well as some passengers who would be taking the Galaxy Pride to the Perseus 3 colony at 1600 and were looking for a bite to eat.
Greg had wanted to bring Admiral Schneider, the Director of Information Services, to inspect the document for anomalies, but he had left town as soon as the Saturday meeting had ended. He had been impressed by Brad at the meeting, however, and was able to get hold of him and bring him along. Brad was enjoying his time off relaxing with his husband Steve and son Shasho. But how could he say no to the Admiral in charge of the Explorer Program? The fact that he was the father of Kyle, his captain as well as his good friend, was another factor.
Frank led the group into the back offices of the café. One of the rooms was a small meeting room with six chairs, which was enough for the group of five, which consisted of Frank, Brad, Ian, Kyle, and Greg. Greg and Frank Kristof had enjoyed a professional relationship and knew each other very well. Everyone took a seat and Frank said, “Which one of you would like to get his started?”
“I’ll do it,” Brad said. He pulled a notebook out of the satchel he was carrying. “It’s the comm codes for each address in H-Q,” Brad said as he answered the unasked question everyone but Greg wanted to ask. “I spent most of my time after my interview yesterday going through the Space Fleet H-Q messaging and email protocols. I figured there would be a repeat try by our mysterious friend to get at Kyle and the Heinlein again. Looks like I was right.”
“It looks like it happened quicker than any of us thought,” Kyle said. He handed Brad the copy of the document. Brad started searching through the notebook. He didn’t have to look far. “First, I can tell you that is not Reghardt’s code.”
His right index finger running across a list of numbers in the back of the notebook aided him in coming to his next conclusion. “The code on the message is not a valid code,” Brad stated emphatically.
“Then how did the sender manage to get it sent from an H-Q computer?” Greg asked.
“That’s the mystery we have to solve. Our mysterious commodore is either a master hacker and has hacked into the system, or he knows somebody who has. There is a code that supposedly tells which Space Fleet sent the message, but this one doesn’t tell us anything because it is not a Space Fleet code. And it definitely didn’t come from an outside address.”
“I’m sure Helmut has his information techs hard at work on solving that issue,” Greg said referring to Admiral Schneider.
“Hmm, I wouldn’t be so sure,” Brad said.
“Why not?”
“I don’t know if you noticed, but when I asked Admiral Schneider if my team on the Heinlein and I could do some research he didn’t say no. He gave some lame answer about not wasting my time. You know what that tells me?”
“Enlighten us.”
“It tells me that he thinks he has a mole in his crew who is helping the mystery Commodore invade the headquarters’ system.”
“What’s a mole?” Ian asked.
“I guess you don’t read spy stories,” Brad answered. “A mole is when you have somebody working for you who is actually working for somebody else.”
“Kind of like a double agent,” Greg added.
“Okay, I think I got it. So, what do we do about this mole?”
“Good question. I think Admiral Schneider has put a lot of his trust in me and the Heinlein techies. The fact that he gave me a copy of the code book seals the deal. Giving me that book means he put a lot of trust in me.”
Greg gave Brad a respectful look. Most of the Explorer fleet’s senior officers were fifteen or older, but of the Heinlein’s senior officers other than Kyle, seven of the nine were fifteen or younger. He had hoped that at his young age Kyle would be taking on older senior officers so he could learn from their experience. Instead, he had done the opposite, right down to taking on two good friends. And yet, here was Brad, who was fourteen, acting like he was a senior Space Fleet officer who had been an Information chief for years. That, along with some other evidence, told him that Kyle had picked well when picking his senior officers.
“Frank, I have no doubt that the directive you received was bogus. I’ll contact Admiral Reghardt for official confirmation, but I’m telling you on my authority as chief admiral of the Explorer Program that you can safely fill the Heinlein’s food order. I will have that for you in writing before I leave.”
“That works for me,” Frank said. “Thanks to all of you for being on top of this and getting things settled quickly. I take it this is some kind of ongoing issue.”
“That is correct. Somebody, for some reason, wants to see Kyle and the Heinlein fail.” Greg knew what the reason behind the annoying attacks was, but he didn’t see where it was any concern of Frank’s. He’d let Frank take care of the food business, something he was expert at, and not have him worry about the status of the Heinlein.
“Before everybody gets up to leave, I have a request to make,” Ian said.
“And what would that be?” Frank asked.
“Well, before I ask it, I have to check on the outcome of yesterday’s ballot on the food staff proposal.” He checked his communicator and Kyle did the same. Kyle found the result first and let out a sigh.
“What happened?” Ian asked.
“It lost.”
Ian let out a low moan. “How bad?”
“By ship, it was 14 to 8,” Kyle answered. “The individual vote, not that it matters since we were told the official vote would be by ship, was 1,853 to 722.”
“While there were negatives as well as positives to the proposal, the overall package was an improvement over what the food service workers have,” Greg said. “So why was it so soundly voted down? Ian, you have your contacts, what was the problem?”
Ian pondered the question for a moment, then kicked in his thoughts. “Well, I thought the proposal was good enough that I was willing to talk my staff into it. But here is what I gathered talking to some of the other chefs. First, cooks see themselves as artists and were afraid they would have to follow orders from somebody who didn’t know shit about cooking because that guy outranked them. They didn’t want to lose their independence. A couple of the captains pushed that idea, or at best didn’t squash it.
“Next, they didn’t want to be in a position where some would outrank others. They looked at each other as equals in that sense. And, like I said, it got no support from the top on some ships. And finally, many resented that Space Fleet put together the entire proposal without asking for anybody’s input. I think if some things had been written and presented differently, it would have passed.”
“How many ships were unanimous passing it?” Brad asked.
“Just two. Us and the Sooloo. And only one ship unanimously voted it down and that was the Galileo. The staff members were subtly threatened with punishment by Captain Morgan if they voted for the proposal. It wasn’t even discussed.”
“Hmm, that was Doctor Tatsu’s ship,” Kyle said. “He was so happy to get off that barge.”
“Small wonder that the transfer requests pile up,” Greg said.
“Why don’t you get rid of him?” Kyle asked.
“Well, despite the bitching about the strict protocols on the ship, those looking to transfer are a minority. And while we may not like some of the things Captain Morgan does, he does follow through on everything he is ordered to do. Outside of the larger than average transfer requests we don’t have any trouble on that ship, if transfers can be considered trouble. There are even a few requests to transfer to the Galileo. I’m not telling you guys anything that isn’t public record and can looked up on the Space Fleet/Explorer Program site. And on that note let’s all go home.”
“Wait, Ian said he had something he wanted to ask first,” Kyle said. Ian gave Kyle a look of gratitude. He was impressed that the boy captain was right on top of things.
“Oh, yeah. Sorry, Ian, I forgot,” Greg said.
“Thanks, Kyle,” Ian said. “I was hoping you could hang back for a bit. I sort of interviewed Jackson Davis, who was our brunch-lunch waiter. He is eager to serve on the Heinlein. He’s just twelve but I’ve watched him at work, and he’s good. Frank spoke very highly of him and said he would recommend him despite his age.”
“From what little I’ve seen of and heard of Kyle and his crew, I get the idea that with you guys age isn’t necessarily a factor,” Frank said. “As much as I’ll hate to lose him, he gets my wholehearted recommendation, but for your ship only. And since we are a training restaurant, my wanting to keep him can’t be a factor, of course.”
“Anyway, I’d love to hire him and get him on the Heinlein as soon as possible as a member of the crew. So, what I would like is if you could hang back and give him his second interview. I think you’ll be impressed.”
Kyle looked over at Greg who said, “Go ahead Kyle. Brad and I will enjoy a piece of pie in the dining room while we wait for you.”
Needless to say, Jackson was excited when he was called in for a second interview. “I didn’t even know I had a first one,” he said as he sat down.
“You did and seeing the work you did as a waiter was worth ten interview questions all by itself. I double checked on your cooking skills, and Mr. Kristof confirmed your skills in the kitchen. Now, I’ll let Captain Robinson conduct the second interview.”
Kyle’s second interview was quick and efficient. He asked standard questions. He liked Jackson’s answers and Jackson’s demeanor. And, like Ian, he was impressed by his work as a waiter. When Kyle finished, he asked Jackson to wait outside.
“Well, what did you think?” Ian asked.
“I think you should find out how soon he can board the ship and join the crew.”
Ian pumped his fists and whooshed out a long, “Yesssssssssssssssss.” 
“It would be great if he could board tomorrow before we leave orbit, but I know that’s asking a lot. Tell him we’ll do everything we can to help him move on board. Remember, he can’t board Tuesday because we’ll be running around out in deep space.”
Ian then opened the door and called Jackson in. Kyle stood up and faced him. “Jackson Davis, I’m pleased to welcome you as a member of the Heinlein’s culinary staff.”
Jackson let out a loud high-pitched shriek and then covered his mouth in embarrassment. “I’ll do everything I can to get on tomorrow,” he finally said. He couldn’t believe that he was only twelve and already his dream of going into space had come true.
“We leave orbit at 1330 tomorrow and won’t be back until Wednesday,” Kyle said.
“We’ll do everything we can to help you move in, especially since we’re off on our first assignment on Sunday,” Ian added.
“I have most of my stuff organized so I can pack it in an instant,” Jackson said. “Mr. Kristof said he called in a replacement for me if you guys hired me on, so I can go home to pack now. I just need to find a ride. I usually take the streetcar.”
“My dad will help out with that,” Kyle said.
“How do you know?” Ian asked.
“I just know, because that’s the way he is.”
As Kyle predicted, Greg was happy to give Jackson a ride to where he lived. Jackson told them that he was living with his aunt and uncle and his four-year-old cousin, Cindy. “My parents live in Berkeley, California. My dad is the executive chef at the Bussard Restaurant in San Francisco, which is, like, a really fancy gourmet restaurant specializing in seafood. Sometimes he let me help him in the kitchen after I turned ten and I did a lot of cooking at home since I was eight. He knew about the Kristof training program for Explorer food service. I was sooo ready to go he didn’t have to suggest it twice. I’ve been with them for a year and now I’m gonna be with you guys and I’m just twelve.”
Kyle could tell that Jackson loved to talk. Kyle thought his outgoing personality was going to be perfect for serving work, just like his cooking skills were going to be perfect for the kitchen. He’d known Jackson for just an hour and could already see that he was going to be a great hire.
They didn’t go directly. Instead, they stopped at the Robinson residence.
“Why are we stopping here?” Jackson asked.
“I want to pick up a copy of a schedule for you. Until operations gets you officially checked in, I can’t message it to you. Come in and meet the family,” Kyle replied.
Jackson, Kyle, Brad, Ian, and Greg piled out of the car. Jackson was amazed to see a group of boys in the swimming pool. He was going to ask if it was too chilly to swim, but then he saw the heaters and fans. He felt the heat when they stepped out onto the patio.
“Meet Jackson, the newest member of the Heinlein crew. He will be working in food service,” Kyle announced. “In the pool are my sons Koji and Duskin, their friends Mark and Matthew, my husband Danny, Danny’s brother Tommy, and my brother Ronnie.” Each boy waved when his name was announced.
“Hi, everyone! Good to meet you…,” before he could finish Koji leaped out of the pool and ran up to Jackson, dripping water on him.
“Can you make stuff from shimmy?” he asked. Jackson noted that Koji was naked and grinned.
“Yes, I can. I’ve been learning because I thought it would be good to know if I got on a ship that served it.”
“Then, I like you,” Koji said.
“That’s good to know, Koji.” Koji was pleased that Jackson remembered his name. Remembering names was a skill Jackson learned in his waiter training and he was good at it.
Alicia came out on the deck and Kyle introduced her. “I’ll go get the schedule, then we better get going,” he said after the introduction.
Jackson could tell that all of the boys in the pool were naked. He liked the idea of skinny dipping and wished he could join in. He wondered about how Danny and Kyle could be married and have kids. He had wondered how it was his brother Ronnie could be Black until he met Kyle’s mother, who he assumed was his stepmother.
Kyle returned quickly with the schedule. “Let’s get you home,” he told Jackson.
Greg was soon driving to Jackson’s home.  “If I don’t need to bring all my stuff tomorrow, I could board the ship tomorrow and get the rest later,” Jackson said after perusing the Heinlein’s schedule for the next week.
“I think we can make that work,” Kyle said. “Your parents are welcome to come to the launch party and for the morning tour of the Heinlein. All you gotta do is let us know in advance. The instructions are in your schedule packet,” Kyle told him.
“What about my aunt and uncle?”
“Since they’re your guardians while you lived here, they are welcome to do the same. They can help you bring the rest of your stuff then.”
“Sweet. Will I get like an orientation or something tomorrow?”
“Yes, you will. Commander Boyer, our Operations chief, will let you know all you need to know when you get registered into our system tomorrow and you’ll get a tour and an orientation packet.”
They arrived at Jackson’s house. He thanked Greg and Kyle for the ride and left saying, “I gotta be the happiest boy in the state of Nevada. Thanks everybody.”
“That is one great kid,” Greg said. “Another positive for your crew.”
<Robinson Residence>
Kyle sat with Danny in the den as he worked on winding down from what had gone from a relaxing day to catch his breath to a day jumping from stress, to business, to happiness. Right now, he was thinking about the stressful part, and that was the bogus message.
“What are you thinking of?” Danny asked.
“Why I have to put up with the shit that the mystery commodore is tossing out,” Kyle replied. “And why I have to figure who’s trying to make trouble on the Heinlein.  All I want to do is be a captain and go and explore the galaxy. And if I run into the problems that are going to happen when you go to new and strange places, have a crew that is all in for kicking the shit out of whatever is facing us. I mean, I’d rather face Azazel than the commodore and his buddy on the ship. (Note: Azazel was a rogue star that Kyle and the Sooloo had to face down in the first “Voyagers” story)
“I asked dad if he ever saw something like this on an Explorer ship or in Space Fleet. He said never in the Explorer Program but there was a mutiny on a Space Fleet ship way back in its early history.”
“For real? What happened?”
“Dad said it was a long story and I could look it up. It’s on the internet and in a couple of books on Space Fleet history. So, I asked him why I’m having the problems when I haven’t even done anything.”
“Did he give you an answer?”
“He said some of it might be jealousy because I got something at thirteen that they couldn’t get. And as for the commodore, he was clueless. So, I dug out my theory and asked him what if the commodore was Admiral Benson? He gave me that look that he can give that says, ‘Are you crazy?’ but he didn’t give me an answer. That makes me wonder if maybe I’m on the right track.”
“Well, here’s what I think. You can stay up all-night worrying about shit you can’t do anything about right now, or you can come up to our bedroom, get naked, and let me fuck the shit out of my captain. Then you take your relaxed body and get a good night’s sleep.”
“I like how you think,” Kyle grinned, and he followed the boy he had loved since they were in primary school.
<Admiral Harley Benson’s Condominium>
“Thanks for the dinner,” Donald Nixon said to his mentor.
“That’s what delivery services are all about,” Harley said.
“Don’t you think they wonder why you order two meals sometimes?”
“Why do you think I have that skirt draped over the couch when they arrive in case they take a peek into the room while I’m accepting the order,” Harley smirked.
“You are such a sneaky dude. Anyway, back to business. Did you think anybody was going to believe that the directive you sent was legit?” Don asked.
“I thought it was good enough that the Kristofs would accept it and that by the time it was figured out why the order was canceled, it would be just one more pain in the ass for baby Kylie to have to deal with. Ian, Steve Boyer, and the baby would have to scramble to get their food order for the voyage. But the request for a freight shuttle hasn’t been canceled, which tells me that somehow, they already found out.”
“But since it might have got the little boy in a tizzy anyway, the idea was a success, right?”
“Not a total success, but it was just one more thing to bug his ass.”
“As opposed to Danny buggering his ass?”
“Donald, clean up your mind!” Harley barked.
“Sorry, sir,” Don said contritely.
Harley reverted to his usual calming self and said, “I have two reasons for seeing you on your last unencumbered evening before you launch. First, you had your Cabal agent in engineering place a little electronic device in the maintenance tube, correct?”
“Yes, sir, it was done,” Don replied.
“You can skip the sir. And if my barking at you bothers you, I apologize. I know you are burdened with an adolescent mind, and I should have taken that into account and chided you with less force.”
“It’s all good. And it’s done even if making use of it won’t be easy.”
“It will be now.” Harley handed Don a small remote. “This can be used anywhere in the ship and is easy to keep charged.”
“And to hide,” Don grinned.
“That, too. But now, you don’t have to activate the device in the tube within a certain distance. You can do it anywhere. That will make it much less likely you’ll be detected.”
“How did you get this? Or even the thingy that’s in the tube?”
“I have my sources who see certain things the same way I do, especially where the Explorer Program is concerned.”
“What’s the second reason?”
“That’s to give you something for you to think about for tomorrow. The records say that Benjamin Kennedy, the new crewman coming in from the Sooloo, was not on very good terms with Kyle or with Brad Kanye.”
Don noted that his mentor didn’t call him Kylie baby, which meant he was being totally serious.
“Here is a summary of the report. You’ll note that he tried to turn down the transfer, but in their ultimate wisdom the bureaucrats at personnel refused his request. Now it’s up to you to take advantage of that and to play on Kennedy’s animosity to recruit him for your cabal.”
“I’ll do everything I can to get it done.”
“No, what you’ll do is get it done. Period. Having him on the ship is a huge break and you HAVE to take advantage of it. It should be a big factor in making the takeover a success.”
“Yes, sir, I will get it done.”
“Oh, and one last thing. Do you think you can come up with a better name for your cabal than The Cabal? You know, something with a little more creativity and pizzaz.”
“I don’t like it much either, but we had to agree on something, and nobody really had anything. If we get a better name, I’ve got no problem changing it.”
Harley got out of his chair and sat next to Don on the couch and put his left arm around the boy’s shoulders. “You’re a special young man and very deserving of the command of the Heinlein. Remember what your ultimate reward will be,” Harley said.
“You’ll be doing okay, too, sir.”
“Between us Captain Kyle Robinson and Admiral Greg Robinson will be nobodies by the time we get done. Now, hop on your bike and get back to one of your last nights in your apartment. This will probably be the last time we’ll meet before you leave. But, my helper in Space Fleet Information will make sure we’ll be able to communicate discreetly once you’re out in space.”
The admiral let go of Don and rose from the couch. The two shook hands; Harley figured the hug he had just given Don was his farewell hug and nothing more was needed. Don left the apartment and Harley got on his communicator to get in touch with the technician he had recruited in Information. There was still a lot to get done for the plan to be a success.
Next: Becoming Home